It was in the early morning here in Canada of November 13, 2016. Sleepily checking my Facebook, the very 1st entry on the newsfeed immediately caught my attention and had me completely wide awake. It was from my daughter who was in New Zealand attending teacher’s college.
The post was a part of a special “Facebook Safety Check” with the headline “The Earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand”. Using this page people caught in an natural disaster emergency crises can notify loved ones around the world that they are “safe”. I had no idea of the earthquake or its severity, all I knew my girl was “currently” safe.
Feeling very helpless on the other side of the earth and unsure of what to now do, a message notification popped up from my girl. In it she mentioned she was up pretty much all night huddled under her desk, the earthquake and numerous aftershocks were that strong but she was okay. But what was now concerning me was the live updates on right side of that Facebook page, namely tsunami warnings and an evacuation of everyone within 1 kilometer of the coast. I thought my daughter was a fair distance from the coast and without seeming like I was too paranoid of a father I did a quick search without her knowing to find out how far she actually was from the coast while we were “chatting” on Facebook. She was well beyond that one kilometer zone.
Sitting directly on what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, New Zealand has a long and storied history of earthquakes. Since 1848 there has been 30 earthquakes in New Zealand that have had a magnitude of 6.0 or more.
Although many parts of Canada where I live are prone to seismic activity, personally I have never felt an earthquake. I live in Central Canada which has been unscathed by the massive destruction of the massive earthquakes. The vast majority of earthquakes that strike Canada are in British Columbia and found in that same Pacific “Ring of Fire”. In this Global News Report, it mentions British Columbia , Canada is “prone to the largest earthquakes in the world, the mega stress earthquakes with tsunami. Those massive earthquakes, often called “the big one”, happen every few hundred years. The last “big one” to strike along the B.C. coast was on January 26, 1700″.
The most recent earthquake that struck New Zealand (which involved my daughter) was a magnitude 7.8 and said to be one of the strongest ones to hit since 1848 (there was only one stronger that occurred in 1855 at an 8.2). The 2016 earthquake was centered north of Christchurch at a rural area called Kaikoura, well known for it’s whale watching tours and having a penguin colony. The casualty level was only 2 people (although each loss is very tragic). Physically this earthquake caused a lot of land upheaval. This article mentions there were over 100,000 landslides caused by the earthquake. There were 29 landslides that covered the only main State #1 highway through this area. Approximately 20,000 people were completely cut off from the rest of the country and had to be evacuated by air and sea. Access to this area by road or rail was impossible for over 6 weeks (including the entire time I was in New Zealand during December 2016). In comparison the February 22, 2011 earthquake that hit the city centre of Christchurch during a busy noon hour experienced a tragic loss of 185 lives. The magnitude of this quake was a much lower 6.3.
During our honeymoon 28 years ago my wife and I spent 3 or 4 days in the city of Christchurch. We did the “tourist thing”, saw many magnificient historical buildings and even climbed up to the bell tour of Christchurch’s most famous landmarks, the Christchurch cathedral. There was mixed feelings coming back to that city centre. It was great to return, but sad to see as most of those beautiful buildings gone or fenced off in ruins as a result of the earthquake. The city centre of Christchurch was pretty much destroyed.
It had been 5 years and 10 months since that earthquake from February 22, 2011, and Christchurch is a city continuing on a massive rebuilding program. Everywhere you go in the city there is construction, both in road work and building construction. In many parts of the downtown centre entire city blocks are vacant. The buildings that once sat there had to be demolished because the damage from the earthquake was too extensive.
On the other hand many historical buildings are undergoing major repairs and restorations. Scaffolding it seems is found everywhere, sometimes entombing an entire building while restoration takes place.
For me the most emotional place I witnessed was Christchurch’s most iconic landmark, the Christchurch Cathedral fenced off and sitting in ruins. Large steel girders have been attached to stabilize it but nothing in the form of restoration has yet to take place. The bell tower where my new wife and I climbed up into toppled during the earthquake, and the main front remains completely open to the elements.
The future of the severely damaged Christchurch Cathedral is mired in controversy. Many locals love the historic landmark and say it should be restored to its former glory. Many others say the damage is too extensive and it should be demolished. Meanwhile it languishes in its damaged state and deteriorates with the passing of time.
There were “priority projects” to try to bring people back to the core after the devastation, namely what is called the “Restart Mall” and a brand new bus station after the old one was destroyed.
The 2011 earthquake not only affected the central core of Christchurch, but many neighborhoods. One of these neighbourhoods is where my daughter has just started teaching. When visiting I mentioned to her that everything was new in the neighbourhood, including the school. My daughter replied it was because the old neighbourhood was destroyed with the earthquake.
Nearly every public building I visited in New Zealand had in or around the entrance an emergency procedure in the event of an earthquake. The procedure is called “DROP, COVER, HOLD”.
The New Zealand government has an excellent webpage on earthquakes for school classroom learning called “What’s The Plan Stan“. With any natural disaster being prepared goes a long way in surviving better through it.
Do you live on one of those earthquake fault lines? Have you ever experienced an earthquake? If you have what was it like? Have you experienced any other natural disasters?